Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review - Christian Encounters: Jane Austen by Peter Leithart

From the back cover:

Jane Austen is now what she never was in life, and what she would have been horrified to become—a literary celebrity.

Austen’s novels achieved a timelessness that makes them perennially appealing.  Kipling and Churchill found solace in her writings during times of war and illness. Mark Twain had a love/hate relationship with her work. And then, there’s our celebrity culture: the television hit
Pride and Prejudice, the award-winning 1995 film Sense and Sensibility, and all the remakes and prequels and sequels. Modern-day Jane Austen fans just can’t seem to leave her characters alone. 

“Janeia” is the author’s term for the mania for all things Austen. This biography captures the varied sides of Austen’s character and places her Christian faith in a more balanced light and with less distortion than has been achieved previously. It is a delightful journey through a life spent making up stories that touched the lives of millions.

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Since diving into the world of Austenesque fiction a few years ago, I’ve been meaning to take in a biography of my now-beloved Jane Austen. This month I enjoyed one that was a perfect little diversion in between my many Austen-themed titles. The Christian Encounters series offered by Thomas Nelson Publishers offers several books that profile prominent authors, politicians and Christian leaders throughout history.  Jane is a perfect fit in this collection, and each title is very modest in size, 200 pages or less (including thorough end notes).  So these brief volumes are a great way to get to know important figures without having to make a large time commitment.

Author Peter Leithart does a wonderful job in profiling the different aspects of Jane’s life—her 18th to 19th Century world, her education, all of her writings, other life events, Christian faith, and of course her untimely death at the age of 41. He draws from many sources, both from Austen scholars and from the works of Jane herself. Throughout his highly researched content, Leithart presents the whole picture of Jane.  She was most certainly a Christian, but she was not obnoxiously overt about her faith in her writing.  He states, “Her Christian faith had always come to most explicit expression at the margins of life…” (pg. 137 or ~pos.1982 on Kindle)

While this Christian Encounters volume does read somewhat like a textbook, Leithart does find room to interject his own voice in the writing.  It seems that he has mixed emotions when it comes to the plethora of Austen-related material in the world today, from all the cinematic adaptations to the many retellings of her work, a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Apparently, the closer the content comes to mimicking the voice of Austen, the more he appreciates the work.  I would agree with him in this regard.  He also seems to admire Austen’s faith, how it affected her life and was so much a part of her, yet she wasn’t excessively upfront about it.

My only minor complaint in this work was Leithart’s insistence upon using the moniker “Jenny” for Miss Austen on many occasions.  This is not an incorrect term, but she will always be my Jane, and I in no way think of her as a “Jenny”.  There’s nothing wrong with the name, I just don’t associate her with it.  Just as I don’t appreciate being called “Laurie” or “Lauren”, as they aren’t my names either.  I’m sure a true Austen scholar could easily disabuse me of this idea, but I couldn’t help but recoil every time this term was used.

So to my fellow Janeites, if you have yet to enjoy a Jane Austen biography, or if it has been a while since you have done so, I recommend Christian Encounters: Jane Austen to you.  While it does examine her religious faith, it is far and away a true biography, also examining her as a woman, author, family member and friend.  Without a significant commitment, you can certainly see who she was, and why she remains one of the most popular authors of all time.

I review for BookSneeze®

From Thomas Nelson:

Christian Encounters, a series of biographies from Thomas Nelson Publishers, highlights important lives from all ages and areas of the Church. Some are familiar faces. Others are unexpected guests. But all, through their relationships, struggles, prayers, and desires, uniquely illuminate our shared experience.


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BookSneeze® provided me with a complimentary copy of this book,
with no other compensation for an honest review.

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If you'd like to give this book a try, I'd be happy to send my copy to you at no charge, as long as you will cover just the cost of shipping.
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  1. I read this book last year and really enjoyed it! Great review!!;)

  2. Kelli:

    Thanks for your comment!

    I've had this one on my shelf for a while. I wish I'd read it sooner! It was a quick one, and very informative. Not as fun as a novel, but still interesting.




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